|Bloomfield will decide Nov. 8 on future as a village|
|Written by Todd Mishler/Walworth County Sunday|
|Tuesday, 01 November 2011 14:25|
The state has approved the incorporation of a portion of Bloomfield Township in far southeastern Walworth County, including the area pictured at left, which is along Pell Lake. However, those who live in the proposed incorporation area must vote on the measure in a Nov. 8 referendum. About 2,000 registered voters live in the area that could become a village. Terry Mayer/staff.
(Read the full story in the e-edition HERE.)
BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP — Proponents won’t know until Nov. 8 whether or not their protracted effort will become more than a battle cry.
That’s when residents in the proposed village of Bloomfield — which includes about 2,000 registered voters — will determine if that designation sticks and they gain their independence through incorporation, or the 8,400 acres remains a town and pieces of it continue to be taken away.
Some residents of the area, in southeastern Walworth County and northeast of County Highway H, have been waging that fight most of the past two decades. The state Department of Administration approved the town’s latest incorporation petition in August.
Should the referendum pass, the village will gain several advantages, such as potentially receiving state aid and shared revenues, assuming much more control over zoning issues and earning the right to accept petitions for annexation from surrounding property owners.
This last item is a major reason for supporters’ efforts, who’ve seen the towns of Linn, Geneva and Randall (in Kenosha County) lose land to neighboring municipalities Lake Geneva and Genoa City, something that happened to Bloomfield last year when Genoa City absorbed the Kloppstein farm property.
Doug Mushel chairs the Incorporation Committee. He has lived in the area since 1977, including the past 10 years in the Wilderland subdivision in the northeast corner of the township, also serving as the town’s engineer for many years.
“Other efforts didn’t get approval, either by the DOA or by referendum, and some are asking, ‘Why now?’” Mushel said. “... (W)e have to protect our town, and this is the best way to do that. Lake Geneva and Genoa City always will look to expand, and that takes from our tax base. To keep our taxes in line, we have to keep our land.
“We had a 10-year agreement with Genoa City,” Mushel said of a no-annexation deal. “But that ended, and we don’t have boundary agreements with either ... The area between us and Genoa City will be annexed because of its proximity and potential development, and the same goes for the land between here and Lake Geneva. Much of the land south and west of County H is farmland and probably will stay in a town-type of environment.
“But the cost of incorporation isn’t going to get cheaper either if we keep putting it off.”
Longtime town resident Frank Chesen, 91, built his first home on Pell Lake in 1948 and has lived on Lakeshore Drive since 1974. He’s been an assessor, health officer and zoning inspector in a place he loves, and he said it’s time for Bloomfield to become a village.
“At my age, it’s not about me one way or the other,” Chesen said. “Some people don’t seem to understand, but if we don’t become a village and hold onto what’s left of the town, we’ll keep losing it. Every time we lose land, our taxes go up and it’s harder to pay the bills. This is about the future, and in my opinion, incorporation is the way to go. And I hope that immediately after this (referendum) passes, that people with land not in the incorporated area ask to be annexed into Bloomfield.”
That wrangling over land and potential future development, especially in the buffer zones, is exactly why the city of Lake Geneva and the village of Genoa City are against Bloomfield’s incorporation and the cause of tensions throughout the process.
Ken Monroe lives in Pell Lake, which went through a failed incorporation effort, and has traveled this mine-filled road many times as a member of the Bloomfield Town Board since 1992 and as town chairman since ’94.
“To me, this whole thing is backwards,” Monroe said. “First you have to take a petition to the town board and it decides if it wants to incorporate, then you pay the state DOA and go through their review and jump through all of the hoops, and then it comes back to the people. The people should decide first.
“Doug (Mushel) and I have made six or seven trips to Madison to meet with DOA officials, with Lake Geneva and Genoa City intervening along the way, and we’ve cut back and cut back,” Monroe said. “We’ve sat down with both municipalities, and I understand their viewpoint, but I believe none of this would have come about if they had left us alone. That’s why we’re trying to incorporate, to control our borders.”
Committee member Becky Gallagher has been actively involved since 2008 but has lived outside of Pell Lake near County H for 14 years.
She said that Bloomfield’s current effort is different because its population of 5,000-plus is much more than that of most towns that have faced similar situations. Gallagher said the committee has gone out of its way to educate residents, and she hopes that translates to the referendum passing.
“I moved to Bloomfield because of the rural environment, and I want to keep it intact, and I believe most people are in favor of it because they also want to protect it and keep it the way it is,” Gallagher said. “Obviously, some folks are not in favor and that’s completely expected, especially anything that requires change. Throughout the process, the biggest questions have been about their addresses, which won’t change, and what will happen with taxes.”
To that end, Bloomfield’s tax rate for 2011 was $2.75 per $1,000 of assessed value, meaning the owner of a $200,000 property paid $550 for town services. Meanwhile, the 2011 rates in Lake Geneva and Genoa City were $5.51 and $8.96, respectively.
“Incorporating allows us more control over zoning issues and creates the potential for establishing TIF districts or getting shared revenues from the state,” Gallagher said. “I’m not sure of the margin, but I believe it has the support of the majority of residents and that it will pass.”
Many questions have arisen and some opposition has existed in the eastern part of the township because of the unique geographical considerations concerning the Nippersink/Powers Lake area and when it comes to services such as lake patrol and management and dam repair.
Rosemary Badame has been a town resident for 30 years, and she lives in the Nippersink area near the Walworth-Kenosha county line.
She’s been involved in failed Powers Lake and Pell Lake incorporation battles the past two decades, so the current struggle is nothing new for Badame.
“What we tried before didn’t come close to incorporation because we were crossing town and county lines,” said Badame, a committee member. “ ... (O)nce people understand the issues, the majority of them are for it. But getting them out to vote is another thing. My main concern is that I want the old Bloomfield to stay together, and the time is now.”
Another reason supporters don’t want any more delays is because the DOA charges $25,000 to review incorporation proposals, a step that used to be free.
But despite jurisdictional issues — Bloomfield provides water and sewer services and has a full-time police department — and potential municipal arm wrestling over annexation, voters will decide what the future holds.
Chesen attended two of the informational meetings and said he’s optimistic that the majority of residents will vote yes.
“They voted it down once, but the trend is that it will pass this time,” Chesen said. “There may be some in the Nippersink area who are opposed, but all of the people I’m associated with are for incorporation. That’s kind of been the party line in the Pell Lake area.”
Mushel said that people don’t want their taxes going up, and they want to know how things will work between the remaining town and the new village.
“The challenge has been getting the correct information to everyone,” Mushel said. “About 150 people attended our first three informational meetings, and around half of those filled out our survey. Of those, about 65 percent were in favor, about 10 percent said no and the rest were undecided.
“This is a big decision, and it’s not one I’m going to make,” Mushel added. “It’s a community decision. They need to tell us what they want to do. Whether they’re for or against, we want residents to express their opinions. So we’re hoping for a big turnout Nov. 8.”
“We wanted to keep the whole town together, and I know that a lot of people don’t want to split it up,” Monroe said. “We understand that, but then it’ll be up to the property owners when it comes to annexation. I’ve been behind incorporation ever since we started this, and it’s hard to say how it will go. I know there are mixed feelings on both sides.
“But the town belongs to the people, and even if it doesn’t pass, at least the people will have spoken.”